Snowball Pleco (Hypancistrus inspector, L102): Care Guide

Common Name(s)Snowball Pleco
Scientific NameHypancistrus inspector, L102
OriginRio Negro in Venezuela
Temperature72-86°F (22-30°C)
Size5.5-6.3 inches
Minimum Tank Size40 gallons
Food & DietOmnivore
Lifespan8 to 10 years
Water pH5.0-7.6
Tank MatesEmber Tetras, Rummy Nose Tetras, Discus, Corydoras, Celestial Pearl Danio, Apistogramma
BreedingCave spawner
DiseaseMay be susceptible to ich
Snowball Pleco
Snowball Pleco (Hypancistrus inspector, L102)

If you are looking for a beautiful, easy-to-care-for addition to your aquarium, look no further than the Snowball Pleco. With their characteristic white or yellow polka dots and peaceful, hardy nature, they are an excellent pleco type for the beginner hobbyist. They have become quite popular in the fishkeeping world because they are the perfect marriage of looks, temperament and low maintenance.

Snowball Pleco Care

The Snowball Pleco (Hypicanistrus Inspector, L102) is an armoured suckermouth catfish part of the Loricariidae family. Its gorgeous white polka dot pattern gives the fish the appearance of being covered in little snowballs, hence its distinctive name. Some Snowball Pleco sport yellow spots as well, adding to the species’ beauty. Comparing the male and females, the former will sometimes show a reddish tint to their armour and more prominent odontodes, which resemble little teeth on their fins. These plecos have the characteristic flattened belly, downturned mouth, and torpedo outline of other catfish, with splayed pectoral and pelvic fins.


Both nocturnal and solitary, the Snowball Pleco is quite antisocial, spending most of its time hiding amongst caves and enjoying its own company. In most cases, your Pleco will ignore its tankmates, making it a very peaceful addition to your tank. Don’t be concerned if your Pleco always seems to be hiding- they are akin to the town hermit, particularly during the daytime.  The Snowball Pleco is also not typically aggressive, but they can be territorial with other members of their species. This is more commonly seen in male Snowball Plecos, and therefore refraining from having more than one male in your tank is recommended.

Food & Diet

As omnivores, a Snowball Pleco in the wild enjoys animals, detritus, and seeds, making providing your Pleco with a varied diet key to their success. The Snowball Pleco tends to lean on the more carnivorous side, their personal preferences being aquatic invertebrates and other small animals, but they also have an affinity for fresh vegetables. Zucchini, spinach and (interestingly their favourite) cucumbers are loved by these little catfish.

Food for Snowball Pleco include:

  • Algae Wafers
  • Bloodworms
  • Sinking pellets
  • Frozen daphnia
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Brine shrimp
  • Chironomid larvae
  • Vegetables (zucchini, cucumber, spinach)

To help prevent overfeeding, limit the amount of food added to the tank to how much your Snowball Pleco can eat within two minutes. Beyond this, the extra food can affect water quality, and consequently your Pleco’s health.

While the Snowball Pleco does eat algae, this is not a staple in their diet and will not be consistently consumed by these fish. As such, they unfortunately will not act as the vacuum cleaner for the tank- they prefer the buffet that you can provide them. Additionally, they are not typically interested in plants, so any planted décor is safe from their hungry mouths.

Lifespan & Disease

When taken care of properly, the Snowball Pleco can live for 8 to 10 years; they are susceptible, however, to common diseases that affect freshwater fishes. The most prominent disease that affects the Snowball Pleco is Ich, a parasite which causes white spots all over their body and that, if left untreated, can be fatal. The over-the-counter medication typically prescribed for Ich unfortunately contains copper, and therefore cannot be given to the Snowball Pleco. As such, the best way to treat the disease is to remove and quarantine the infected fish and adjust the water to help them recover. Other diseases that may affect the Snowball Pleco are hole-in-the-head disease and skin flukes. When treating them, the most important thing to remember is that, because they have armour-like plates rather than scales they are more sensitive to various antibiotics, chemicals and salts. Just be careful and always ask about the contents of the medication before giving it to your Snowball Pleco.

Snowball Pleco Size

Some species of pleco are known to reach a significant size, growing to over a foot in length. However, that is not the case with Snowball Plecos.

Snowball Pleco (L102) reach 5.5-6.3 inches in length, making it a suitable species for many home aquarists.

Snowball Pleco Tank Setup

The Snowball Pleco is a freshwater fish native to a tributary of the Amazon River called the Rio Negro in Venezuela. The decaying plants at the bottom of the river have made the Rio Negro the largest blackwater river in the world, with soft, slightly acidic water. As such, the Snowball Pleco has very specific care needs to thrive in your home aquarium. Your pleco will be happiest and healthiest when their tank is modelled as closely to the conditions of their native river as possible- here we describe just how to achieve the appropriate water conditions, tank size, tank setup and companions to ensure you’re ready for your new fish.

The maintenance of the tank water is essential to the well-being of your Snowball Pleco with the most important parameters being temperature, pH, water hardness and water flow rate. While the Snowball Pleco is relatively hardy, and can tolerate some non-optimal conditions, ensuring that these factors fall within the desired ranges will help guarantee your Pleco is a happy camper (or swimmer).

Snowball Pleco L201, Black Neons & Dwarf Honey Gourami – New in the Fish Room

Snowball Pleco Temperature

Snowball Pleco thrives in temperatures ranging from 72 to 86 °F  (22-30°C), similar to other fish originating from the Amazon River.

Water pH

Water with a more acidic pH, typically between 5.0-7.6, is best suited to the Snowball Pleco. While these fish can tolerate more neutral pH, it is best to ensure that your water acidity falls in the middle of this range.

Water Hardness

Snowball Pleco thrive in soft waters with a hardness between 6-10 dKH.

Water Flow Rate

Used to the strong currents in the Rio Negro, the Snowball Pleco thrives in an environment with a high water-flow rate; a good rule of thumb is to have a rate around 4 to 5 times the size of the tank. Air pumps or bladders are a great way to help maintain this flow.

Additionally, it may be a good idea to emulate the dark water that the Snowball Pleco is used to from the Rio Negro. To achieve this, you can add peat or tea bags to the fish tank filter. This will help create the perfect brown-yellow coloring for your fish.

When you first add your Snowball Pleco to their new home it is important to consistently perform water checks to make sure that all the above parameters are being met. We recommend checking once a week at first, and when the water has started becoming more consistent, you can begin spacing these checks out. Extremely important to note is that copper is toxic to the Snowball Pleco, and therefore checking to ensure that there is no copper in the water is essential. A good way to make sure that there are safe copper levels is to refrain from using tap water to fill your Snowball Pleco’s tank.

Snowball Pleco Tank Size

Due to their relatively small size, the Snowball Pleco can thrive in tanks with volumes as small as 40 gallons; however, larger tank sizes can improve quality and length of life. Providing your Pleco with more room is like finding out the house you’re buying has an extra bedroom- more space to hide and have some quality time alone, which is super important to these little guys. If you have the space and means to house a larger tank, it is something to consider when keeping Snowball Pleco.


As bottom-feeders and solitary fish, the Snowball Pleco requires a tank with soft substrate and lots of freshwater plants and rocks, providing hiding spaces and mimicking their native habitat of the Rio Negro. Again, the more closely you can model your tank to their wildlife home, the better your new fish friends will fare. Sand is an excellent option for substrate, as it is soft, whereas gravel or pebbles will likely be uncomfortable for your Pleco as they graze the bottom of the tank.

Decorations like caves, rocks, tunnels and freshwater plants are excellent additions to your aquarium, as they provide your Snowball Pleco with ample hiding places. Because they are not likely to bother with plants, any freshwater variety that is compatible with the biosphere you have created is suitable.

Tank Mates for Snowball Plecos

The peaceful nature of the Snowball Pleco lends itself to sharing their tank with species of a similar temperament and size, such as the Ember Tetra or the Discus. Most notably, it is best to avoid having other Hypancistrus species and more than one male Snowball Pleco; this helps prevent aggression and hybridization. If you would like to keep more than one male Pleco then having a large tank with ample hiding spaces is necessary so that the fish can establish their own territory (like the Sharks and the Jets).

Some good options for Snowball Pleco tank mates include:

  • Ember Tetras
  • Rummy Nose Tetras
  • Discus
  • Corydoras
  • Celestial Pearl Danio
  • Apistogramma

Ensuring that your Snowball Pleco is in an environment where they can thrive is extremely important, but it is also essential that any other members of your aquatic ecosystem are safe and healthy too. Here we’ve included some commonly asked questions about the compatibility of the Snowball Pleco with other popular fishy friends.

Are Snowball Pleco and Shrimp compatible?

The Snowball Pleco will eat smaller varieties of shrimp, meaning that the compatibility of the two organisms is highly dependent on the shrimp size. Dwarf shrimp are often mistaken for food by the Pleco, and are therefore not suitable tank mates for this dotted catfish. However, Green Lace, Flower and Vampire shrimp are usually safe choices due to their larger size, and therefore can make good potential neighbours to your new Pleco. The bottom line is that the compatibility of the Snowball Pleco and shrimp is highly variable and will depend on the specific species of shrimp you wish to add to your aquarium.

Are Snowball Pleco and African Cichlids compatible?

African Cichlids are notoriously aggressive and can present difficulties when attempting to house them with Snowball Plecos; their compatibility is specific to the pairing of cichlid to Pleco. Those that are closer in size to the Snowball Pleco are better choices than those that are larger, as the Snowball Pleco can more easily defend itself should things get violent. In addition to the issues with aggression, many African Cichlids require water that is more basic than the Snowball Pleco, making their optimal environments incompatible. Further research into the type of African Cichlid you wish to add to your tank is necessary- however, we recommend sticking with one of the species we recommend in the section above.

Are Snowball Pleco and Snails compatible?

For the most part, Snowball Pleco do not bother ornamental snails, making them a good tank mate for the Hypancistrus inspector. It has been observed by some hobbyists that other species of Pleco, such as the Bristlenose Pleco, may prey on snails; however, this is not necessarily because they are their preferred food, but rather because the Pleco may be underfed.

Snowball Pleco Price

Snowball Pleco can range from $29-80 USD depending on where you purchase them. As with any new pet, be sure that you are buying from a reputable place, and to always do your research. It is possible to breed the Snowball Pleco, but this requires a separate tank with the correct environment and attention to the breed’s specific needs. We recommend that, if you are a beginner hobbyist, you lead the breeding to the pros.

The Snowball Pleco is the perfect addition to your aquarium, whether you are just starting out or are a veteran hobbyist. We hope this article provided you with a good overview of their needs and have primed you to be the best Snowball Pleco parent you can be. Always be sure to ask questions and seek out help when caring for your fish.

Dwarf Snowball Pleco (L471)

In addition to the Snowball Pleco (L102), there is also a smaller variety called the Dwarf Snowball Pleco (L471) which share a number of similarities and differences with their larger counterpart. The most obvious of their differences is size: while the Snowball Pleco is between 5.5-6.3 inches, the Dwarf Snowball Pleco is only 3.9 inches. This obviously means that they require a much smaller tank, 15-20 gallons being sufficient. They also require temperatures that are slightly warmer than those favoured by the standard Snowball Pleco, with the optimal range between 77-84.2°F, characterstic of their native home of the Orinoco delta in Venezuela. However, their pH, dietary and water hardness requirements are the same as for the standard Snowball Pleco. If you are looking for a fish with a similar temperament and needs as the Snowball Pleco, but in a smaller size, the Dwarf Snowball Pleco is an excellent choice.